August 21 2013 – Producer/Mixer/Engineer Ross Hayes Citrullo, started recording bands at age 16. During his high school years, Citrullo could be found hunched over his mixing desk in the dimly-lit basement of his parents’ Etobicoke home, recording friends’ bands, family musicians and his own guitar riffs.
Nine years later, Citrullo is now the owner of Toronto based indie recording studio, Epik Productions, which he co-founded while attending Radio and Television Arts classes at Ryerson University. “I met my partner Corey Peck in university and we realized we had similar basement studios,” Citrullo recalled. “We decided to merge studios and started taking advantage of school assignments to work with higher-profile artists and bands. And we were able to use the school’s higher-end equipment to create a better quality product.”
It was also at Ryerson where Ross met Instructor/Mentor and Producer/Mixer Brian Moncarz (Bleeker Ridge, Yukon Blonde, Moneen) who encouraged his views on Rock music and shaped the way he approaches working with bands. “Brian kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot about how to make rock and roll records. He helped connect me with the industry and through emulation, helped me refine my approach at working with bands. He’s just the nicest guy and I can see why he has been so successful.”
Since starting, Epik Productions grew to serve over 500 bands in just 4 years.
“Seeing how we’ve evolved from recording local bands in a basement to working with high-profile label bands like The Sheepdogs is surreal,” Citrullo said. “Back when we started we used to say we had a SM58 (a basic vocal microphone) and a dream. Now that dream is reality.”
Citrullo’s career took off when he recorded and played guitar for Canadian folk artist Jadea Kelly’s first record, Second Spring. She was awarded “Best Country Artist” at the 2008 Toronto Independent Music Awards, opening doors for Citrullo with record labels like Underground Operations, Universal Music Canada and Dine Alone Records.
Over the next few years, Citrullo engineered and recorded live shows for record labels and independent artists around the GTA, including the farewell tour for Canadian indie rock band Moneen in 7.1-surround sound and 3D video—the first of its kind. He then went on to engineer and mix live records for Juno-award-winning and nominated bands The Sheepdogs, Monster Truck and Mariana’s Trench, as well as American electronic rock band AWOLNATION.
“Recording these bands was a great experience, because I was really able to see why they have made it in the industry,” Citrullo said. “They are all so good at performing live.”
Last year, Citrullo broke into the Canadian rock scene recording and mixing a single with up-and-coming Toronto rock band TimeGiant. He stumbled upon the band by chance at The Rivoli, while attending the show of another band he was hoping to produce.
“They embodied everything I loved about music from a young age,” Citrullo beamed. “I grew up listening to the classics like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, and TimeGiant shared these influences. It was a match made in rock and roll heaven.”
“In addition to being old school Rock and Roll, he’s also super professional and renewed our hopes that great producers can actually have an awesome work ethic,” TimeGiant explained. “…and it sounds really really good!”
Citrullo works with bands to reach their goals; whether that is getting airtime on the radio, attracting more promoters or sparking the interest of a label, he feels that he becomes their newest member and dives right into their group.
“I want them to know that I’m as invested in their project as they are,” Citrullo said. “In any project, it’s both of our reputations on the line.”
Citrullo can be spotted front row centre at live music venues around Toronto, grooving along to the music as he scouts new bands to record.
“When we get word of a new and promising band in the area, we make arrangements to hear them play live,” Citrullo said. “If the band has it together live, we bring them into studio for a tour and to discuss recording.”
Once the project is figured out, Citrullo gets to work on their record starting with a pre-production session.
“This includes meeting the band at their rehearsal space, dissecting their songs, arranging and restructuring parts to refine the direction of the band,” Citrullo explained. “By the end of the pre-production session, scratch tracks will be laid out and the band will leave with a finalized structure that they can practice along to before the tracking session.”
The tracking session is the day the band comes into the studio to start recording; “This is where we experiment with sounds and test out different instruments and gear to get the sound the band is looking for without going over time or budget.”
And at the end of a very long day (about 12 hours are dedicated to each track), the track is ready to be edited and mixed. It is the mix that defines the character of the song, “Its something that changes with each band, something has to be unique about every song and often that is created during the mix.”
Citrullo’s passion for music sprouted at age five when he first picked up the Yamaha classical guitar his father brought home for him one night.
“Playing guitar just felt natural,” Citrullo said. “It didn’t feel like work.”
And when Citrullo isn’t busy perfecting the sound of other bands at Epik, he can be found rocking out on his customized Gibson Les Paul with his own band, The Commoners, for rowdy crowds at music venues across the GTA.
“Playing in a band keeps me connected to music on a personal level,” Citrullo said. “And it makes me remember how it feels to be a musician, which is the root of every good producer—being able to relate to and understand the musicians.”
Citrullo’s ultimate dream is to become the “go-to guy” for rock in Toronto, and he’s well on his way.
“I just want to be there with the guys and girls that want to make something real,” Citrullo said. “Like one of my idols, Neil Young said, ‘There’s an edge to real rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all that matters.’ If I can help bands put that edge in, then I’ve done my job.”